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Secret Society

The city's car customizers weigh in on Puff Daddy's hidden compartment.

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When Sean "Puffy" Combs was recently busted with a handgun found lying on the floor of his SUV, nobody was more surprised by the incident than the city's high-end auto customizers -- who install everything from upgraded upholstery to bullet- and bombproof armor and hidden drop boxes. After all, the Post reported that the rapper had a secret electronically controlled compartment in his Lincoln Navigator for just this sort of situation -- and that he and his posse simply couldn't get the hydraulic trapdoor open before the police pulled them over.

"Maybe Puffy's not the sharpest knife in the drawer," offers Marsha Tortora, co-owner of Empire Custom Coach in Brooklyn. "I guess under duress it can be hard to remember a combination."

"If the battery had been disconnected recently, that might have deleted the code," hypothesizes an employee at Lafayette Street's NoHo Auto who identifies himself only as David. He adds, sensibly, "If he had something that opened with a key, he wouldn't have a problem."

Puff Daddy's difficulties notwithstanding, driving around with a secret onboard safe sounds pretty nifty. So do you need a ride as big and pricey as Puffy's to qualify for one? "If somebody wants to pay for it, there's space in any car," says Empire's Tortora, whose company is best known for turning SUVs and Hummers into prom-ready stretch limos. "It might only be a six-by-ten-inch box in the floor of your trunk, but we'll find a spot." The cost: $1,200 to $3,000 -- though, Tortora adds, "if you're doing a $100,000 conversion, I might just throw the safe in."

Not everybody is happy to install stash boxes. "I avoid that kind of work," sniffs Michael Angelo, the general manager at UltraSmith, a Manhattan customizing firm. "Usually when people ask for something like a hidden safe or compartment, it's not for good reasons."

"We've done them for a diamond broker and a woman who owned a beauty parlor in Bed-Stuy," Tortora says cheerfully. "A telecommunications executive had us install two traps in his car, one for his driver and one in the back for him."

Just like Puffy, the executive needed to stow a couple of guns. But the parallels end there: "He was worried about someone kidnapping his children," Tortora recalls. "And the firearms were all licensed."


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